Admiral hammers on gender inequity

Aggressively aims to humanize academy, ready Mids for war

February 27, 2006|By BRADLEY OLSON | BRADLEY OLSON,SUN REPORTER

At the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the superintendent, is known for scooting around the 330-acre campus on a golf cart and leading cheers at Navy events with a bullhorn.

At 60, he has a grandfatherly rapport with many of the 4,200 midshipmen.

But Rempt, tapped to lead the academy in 2003 after his predecessor resigned amid criticism of his harsh management style, has taken a decidedly no-nonsense approach to a long-standing problem at the academy: sexual harassment and assault.

Last week, the academy took the unusual step of announcing Rempt's decision to charge standout quarterback Lamar S. Owens Jr. with rape, conduct unbecoming an officer and indecent assault. The academy is also investigating another rape allegation involving a football player.

This year, Rempt drew attention for ordering the court-martial of an academy oceanography professor who allegedly made explicit sexual comments last summer to midshipmen. In past cases, military and civilian lawyers say, an offender likely would have been reprimanded at most.

Supporters praise Rempt's aggressiveness in dealing with sexual assault, harassment or just about anything else that crosses his mind. They say he is an advocate for change in a place that needs it. Some have described him as an "activist," noting improvements for women on the campus and his appointment of the school's first black commandant, the No. 2. leadership position at the academy.

Critics say Rempt has gone too far. Old-guard alumni bristled when he changed the lyrics of the school's centuries-old alma mater to make it gender-neutral, and some staff have complained that Rempt has little tolerance for dissent. The attorney for the oceanography professor contends that Rempt's zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment has created a "witch-hunt atmosphere" at the academy.

In an interview with The Sun late last year, Rempt discussed his views on dealing with sexual assault and harassment.

"To me it comes down to a pretty simple thing to say, and not so easy to do, and that is establishing a command climate where we are helping these young people to learn how to treat each other, to treat people the way you yourself want to be treated," he said. "We don't want people that harass other people. We don't want those who call other people names. We want those who build each other up and generate the teamwork so critical to success."

Rempt has not directly commented to reporters on the Owens case, relying on statements issued through his public affairs office. A spokesman said he was unavailable yesterday.

Genteel visionary

A native of Southern California and a 1966 academy graduate, Rempt came to Annapolis from the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., a graduate school for midgrade military officers.

Before that assignment, he was known to ride around the Pentagon on a foot-powered scooter while serving as the Navy's specialist and program manager on missile defense.

He succeeded Vice Adm. Richard J. Naughton, who resigned after a Navy investigation rebuked him for his management style and for allegedly using force against a Marine guard who asked for his ID on New Year's Eve. Naughton denied the charges.

In a July 2003 interview with The Sun, Rempt described himself as a "consensus builder" who wanted to humanize the academy and treat the academy's officers and students as "the important individuals they are."

For many faculty and staff, Rempt has been a calming, genteel leader.

Standing about 6 1/2 feet tall, with graying hair, Rempt is given to monologues about academy affairs and often uses rhetorical questions to explain his thinking, sometimes punctuating his sentences with "Right?" for emphasis.

"He's a real gentleman and a great boss to work for," said Capt. Brian McCormack, director of the academy's sailing program. "He has a great vision of where he thinks the Naval Academy needs to go."

McCormack said it was Rempt's idea to use sailing - both on patrol craft and sailboats - as a leadership laboratory, even pushing to allow midshipmen to command summer sailing trips by themselves, without the supervision of officers or faculty members. Mids have praised the practice.

Rempt is also credited with placing a renewed focus on preparing midshipmen for war by focusing on leadership and cultural studies.

"The most sweeping change that Rod Rempt has brought to the academy has been the reintroduction of the rationale for the school," said retired Gen. Charles Krulak, chairman of the academy's board of visitors, a civilian oversight body. "His legacy is that he did everything in his power to prepare his men and women graduates to go out and lead their troops in the war on terrorism."

Senior administrators say he makes decisions carefully and includes stakeholders in changes that may push the envelope. He often challenges subordinates in brainstorming meetings, questioning them on their ideas or inviting them to counter his proposals.

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